Size: With the Central Business District already becoming overwhelmed with large, generic mixed-use developments, the proposed Mercer Island Center for the Arts would impose a huge presence in what has been an open, relatively unspoiled public space. One of the many reasons people move to Mercer Island is its almost rural feel in an urban/suburban environment.
The foresight to preserve large tracts of land such as Pioneer Park and the Mercerdale hillside is what has created the Island’s character in the face of unceasing development. Instead of a view of the natural Mercerdale Hillside, most of the west side of the park would be dominated by the proposed performing arts center façade.
Parking: MICA will provide no parking with the proposed variance the city may allow. There is no parking available for the center in the downtown area. For MICA—and you—to assume that Farmers Insurance will continues its largesse and offer its lot for MICA or YTN productions (and only on nights and weekends) is folly.
And without on-site parking, traffic around the center and the park during shows will likely require the city to staff additional MIPD personnel as it does for parades and other special events. (Yet another expense—have you planned for it?)
Encroachments: The proposed building’s requirement for a fire lane takes up a much larger percentage of usable parkland than the present walking path and creates more impervious surface that cannot absorb rainfall. The huge water retention tank necessary to mitigate the effects of losing the native plant garden and some wetland is outside the boundaries of the property under proposed lease to MICA. Does that mean it’s the city’s responsibility? At what cost? The destruction of natural habitat to accommodate the massive footprint of the center goes against every principal we hold dear for this community and for the world at large in this day and age. We shouldn’t let “progress” always dictate, even when it appears that someone else will be paying for the shiny building.
Alcohol: Providing a variance allowing the center to serve alcohol and/or allowing alcohol consumption on the property when alcohol is not allowed in city parks sets both a bad example for the community and our children and a terrible precedent for the city.
Every variance you allow for this project to proceed as envisioned in its current location sets a dangerous precedent. To outside observers, judging from how this project is portrayed in the local media and how approval has been confined to council decisions and not a community vote, suggests that your judgment has been swayed by the deep pockets of the people behind this special interest. (A recent article in the Reporter, for example, gave the city’s approval of SEPA a front page story while relegating the dissenting group’s protest day in the park to a sidebar.)
If the community truly wants and needs a performing arts center, then put it to a community vote, and plan and build it with transparency. If MICA wants to build a private venture offering performing arts to the community here on MI, then let it find and purchase land and build on its own, or buy and build out an existing structure on the island as the other six organizations displaced by MISD have. The city and taxpayers didn’t give a break to Country Village Day School, CHILD and others; they had to find space and pay market rates and build-out costs.
The community was hoodwinked into believing the levy to rebuild the high school included a performing arts center in the package that would be available for community, not just MISD, use. Please don’t allow yourselves into believing that this “public-private” partnership with MICA is what it appears on its face. The way it’s structured now, taxpayers are on the hook for it if it doesn’t work out as planned, and the city will have little or no say in how it’s operated.
On its surface, MICA’s proposal may look like a win-win situation for the city and performing arts groups like YTN that would like a permanent home. As our representatives, however, you must approach this project as if voters had entrusted you with constructing a city-owned and -operated center.
Would you locate a performing arts center in Mercerdale Park? Or would it make more sense on other city land, such as near the community center where there is more parking available and less encroachment on parkland and natural habitat? Would you ensure that you had an adequate operating budget to maintain the building whether it was used to its full potential or not?
We honestly believe that despite the fact that we, as taxpayers, are not directly funding this project, because the council wants to grant public land for it, you have a responsibility to put this proposal to a community vote at the very least.
Michael W. Sherer